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03.06.2022 Author: Viktor Mikhin

Arab World-US: In Search of a New Policy


It is clear that US relations with the Gulf states and the rest of the Arab world, which it considers “strategic partners,” have been tense in recent times. And the sources of such tension are well known. The main one at the moment is the so-called Ukrainian crisis, artificially induced by the US which has invested all its diplomatic, political, economic and military weight by rallying anti-Russian allies in Europe and Asia.

However, positions in the Persian Gulf and Arab countries run counter to US expectations. The author refers both to their positions on UN Security Council and General Assembly resolutions, and to the views expressed by Arab officials and Arab media. On a more serious level, the Arabs have refused to get involved in the energy war that the US, using Europe, unequivocally declared on Russia. In fact, the Arabs are more sympathetic to Russia on this issue and see no justification for breaking the law of supply and demand in the energy market or for increasing oil production outside the rules and quotas agreed by OPEC countries.

In addition, Iran is a constant source of the US-Arab acrimonious dispute, in which Washington demonstratively disregards the basic interests of the Gulf countries. While the US is currently seeking to renew the nuclear deal with Tehran, the Gulf states primarily perceive Iran as the biggest threat, which they actively flaunt in all negotiations with Washington, yet the latter defiantly refuses to hear the Arab point of view. The personal and ideological factor, Saudi Arab News notes, is also part of the tension equation: Biden and his administration are essentially a continuation of Barack Obama’s presidency, Obama’s third term if you will. It should be recalled that it is Barack Obama and his administration that the Gulf Arabs have so far accused of betraying their interests after Washington signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran.

As always in such cases, there are conflicting views on the deterioration of US-Saudi relations. But even in Washington, officials and intellectuals have different views on the reasons for the latest tension. Many US diplomats who served in the Persian Gulf attribute the problem to a “misunderstanding” between the Atlantic and the Gulf. They tend to invoke cultural differences or deep historical roots in this context and propose dialogue as a solution for the sake of restoring friendly relations between the two countries.

Another group of experts in Washington looks at the problem from the perspective of their immediate interests. In the context of US-Russian confrontation and increasing global polarization, which has brought the world to the brink of a new Cold War with hot elements in the heart of Europe, they believe that there is no choice but to seek help from the US historical partners, who can exert extensive influence by cultural means or use their “energy leverage”. America has gained many global and strategic advantages in the world since the end of the Cold War, when the US became the sole superpower and global regulator. And to maintain these advantages, the current Biden administration, according to such experts, cannot afford to alienate its traditional friends in a world of fierce confrontation on all fronts and in all regions.

A third trend approaches the question from the opposite direction. Proponents of this theory believe that the new US “liberal sun” is rising over the world that Washington has clearly divided between democrats and authoritarian regimes at its discretion. A great battle has broken out between the two sides in this world, which is unfolding most visibly in Ukraine, where Washington is constantly pouring oil on the fire of the Ukrainian tragedy and preferring to wage its proxy war against Russia till the last Ukrainian. They continue to argue fiercely in defiance of common sense that anyone who does not stand with Washington in this grand battle is a renegade and a sworn enemy of the United States.

All three points of view miss three important facts: first, the US and its international status has changed, or rather fell steeply. Second, the Arab countries in the Gulf and elsewhere, especially in recent times, have changed dramatically and started to look after their own interests, primarily in military defense. And third, the world has changed and is constantly changing, from a unipolar world dominated by the US as a gendarme, to a multipolar world where other powers, notably Russia and China, have taken responsibility for the fate of humanity. As a result, the influence of the US and the Western alliance in general has declined over the past two decades. The truth is, the undisputed universal hegemony of the US did not last more than a decade. It started and ended in the 1990s, when Washington ruled the world, fully aware of its power and might, with which it intervened militarily in the Middle East and Europe, and then left. However, since the beginning of this century and through four administrations – George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump and Joe Biden – the US has lost sight of the global balance of power and its wisdom, its foresight in how it has used its own power and treated its allies.

Now, after a decade of revolutions, turmoil, civil war, terrorist violence and anarchy, the Arab world and the Gulf states have finally succeeded in embracing radical reforms, decisively changing the economic, social and political realities in the nation states of the region. It is only natural that such changes should require a process of reconsideration of geopolitical interests, reassessment of strategic threats, friends and allies. These processes, in turn, are closely interlinked with the relations of the countries concerned in a global environment that has also changed dramatically as a result of the transformation of the rules of the game applicable during the Cold War. All this has led to a state of decay in the Western camp due to Brexit in Europe and related developments in the US, a sharp decline in its role in the Arab world and above all in the Gulf region, and the spectacular rise of Russia and China on the world stage.

One of the main consequences of all these changes, taken together, has been the so-called new Arab politics and the difficult search for a national security concept. The disgraceful flight of the US from Afghanistan and its retreat from Syria and Iraq have clearly played their part in this regard, as have direct attacks on vital targets in the Gulf. Nor could the results of the US experiments in “democratization” in the region be ignored. The crisis in Afghanistan infamously ended with the collapse of the state, the flight of the political leadership to Kabul and the transfer of power to the Taliban, who now rule the country in exactly the same way as before. The US experiment in Iraq was also deplorable, eventually leading to government paralysis. The Iraqi state is now unable to fulfil its protective or developmental functions and long after the elections it is unable to elect a head of state or cabinet to run the country. The US modernization mission abroad has completely ignored its experience and how long it took to mature and the fact that even the US is still not fully formed two centuries after its creation.

The current Biden administration in Washington has not shown the slightest interest in the reform taking place in the Gulf and other Arab countries. They know little about efforts to diversify income sources and assimilate women and religious and ethnic minorities into national institutional structures. The US approaches the world, including the Gulf states, through the prism of globalization, based on the spread of a system of moral and material values defined only by the West. The West simultaneously acts as a global hegemon and therefore promotes geostrategic goals that benefit only it, such as limiting and besieging emerging rivals Russia and China. However, the 21st century is dictating completely different rules of the game on the world stage, which the US does not know and cannot base its policies on. This is why the influence and dominance of the United States is steadily declining.

Viktor Mikhin, corresponding member of RANS, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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